The golden era of Alabama football is upon us ... and we are not worthy
To quote the famous philosopher and sage, Wayne Campbell …
We’re not worthy.
We’re not worthy of Alabama football.
We’re not worthy of Nick Saban.
We’re not worthy of the 10-years-and-counting that has seen the Crimson Tide at the absolute pinnacle of college football.
We’re not worthy.
The “we” isn’t just referring to recent bandwagon Alabama fans, either. It is the royal “we” — meaning everyone, whether you love the Tide or loathe Saban with all your War Eagle or Go Dawgs or Geaux Tigers heart.
We’re not worthy because we really have no comprehension of just how historic Alabama football is right now. It is hard to grasp the concept of history when it is happening in front of your eyes in real time, because historical context requires a rear-view mirror and time measured on a calendar and not a stopwatch.
The numbers themselves are truly staggering: 5 national championships in the past 10 years. Playing in every College Football Playoff game possible to the Tide to make. A 142-15 on-field record in 12 seasons (after going 7-6 with Mike Shula’s talent in 2007).
Since Saban’s second season in Tuscaloosa in 2008, the Tide have played just 3 (!!!) regular-season games in which it hasn’t been in contention for the national championship – the final 3 regular season games of the 2010 season – a staggering 134 of 137 games, while posting a 128-9 (.934) record during the regular season.
Alabama has not lost to an unranked team since 2007 and has lost just 1 game to a team ranked outside the top 15 in the AP poll in the past 10 years (No. 19 South Carolina in 2010). For perspective, no other team in the FBS has lost fewer than 10 games to teams outside the top 15 in that same time frame.
Perhaps the only frame of reference one can truly attempt to draw a parallel with is the legendary Oklahoma Sooners from 1948-58 under Bud Wilkinson. The Sooners won 11 consecutive Big 7 conference crowns from 1948-58, then won the Big 8 title in 1959.
During that time, Wilkinson led Oklahoma to 3 national championships, in addition to an NCAA-record 47 consecutive wins from 1953-57. Oklahoma also won 31 straight from 1948-50.
Here lies the true difference between what Wilkinson did in Norman and what Saban has accomplished (and is still accomplishing …) in Tuscaloosa: Wilkinson dominated college football in the day of limitless scholarships and limited exposure, whereas Saban is bending college football to his will at a time the sport is truly nationwide. Wilkinson didn’t recruit against 500 channels of TV available and the internet to spotlight every game played every Saturday. Wilkinson didn’t have an 85-scholarship limit to where he had to cherry-pick the best of the best. Wilkinson didn’t have the every-day history of arguably the other greatest coach in college football history looming over his shoulder every day.
Saban battles all those things. Boise State is a national brand now, as is Hawaii and Oregon and all sorts of far-flung locales. And they’re all on TV now — meaning a great CBS/ESPN/SEC Network combo package isn’t as attractive as it used to be.
Having spent more than a decade in Alabama covering the Crimson Tide at the most granular level possible, it always astounded your humble author — pre-Saban — how caught up in the past Tide fans could be. Tuscaloosa was and still is a literal shrine to Paul W. Bryant, and the shadow of the Bear is a long one. Six national championships has a way of doing that, sure. So does the combined mediocrity of Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula.
And it isn’t easy to admit this, but your humble author also thought Bryant’s legacy would eat up Saban the way it did Ray Perkins — arguably the best post-Bear coach who had the misfortune of immediately replacing Bryant. Time has eased direct comparisons, sure, but Saban still coaches in Bryant-Denny Stadium that is on Bryant Drive just down the street from the Bryant Museum and in the same town as Paul W. Bryant High School.
I thought Saban wouldn’t last under the glare of the Bear. When your fan base woke up on third base thinking it hit a triple, well, the recipe for disaster serves 101,821.
Incredibly, Saban managed to stare unblinkingly at the expectations and actually build a program that exceeded them. Standing in the cold rain during the celebration for the 2009 national title, Saban practically admonished the Bryant-Denny crowd thrilled to be hoisting a 13th crown for thinking the Crimson Tide had hit the finish time.
No, this was just the beginning, Saban said. And he was dead right. No. 1 recruiting classes bore the fruit that became rings and celebrations and a fan base forced to buy new t-shirts and car flags every other year to refresh the national championship count. One-time rivals like Tennessee became a winning streak that has practically self-destructed the Shining Beacon on the Hill. That school down the road backed up the Brinks truck for the son of a preacher, then fired the truck’s driver when it all came crumbling down. Kirby Smart left for his alma mater and came oh-so-close to solving the riddle … only to see Tua perform a magic trick and then Jalen do the exact same thing one year later.
Notre Dame? A mirage like a made-up girlfriend. Texas? Colt McCoy’s shoulder still hurts. Michigan State and Washington stood up and got knocked down clean. LSU took its shot and came up with little more than a mouthful of grass. Clemson and former Alabama walk-on Dabo Swinney have a great thing going at Clemson, but it still doesn’t compare to what Saban and Alabama have built, cultivated and weaponized upon the college football landscape.
We’re not worthy.
None of us are.
Who knows how the storybook ultimately ends. But odds are good it won’t end anytime soon.